Derry, or Londonderry as it is known North of the border, is an ideal place to base yourself, if you intend exploring the North of Ireland, the city itself, Donegal or the Inishowen Peninisula. The city which was divided between the protestant Riverside and the catholic Bogside was very ‘troubled’ during the 60s, 70s and 80s but is now enjoying a renaissance thanks to the Northern Ireland Peace agreement in 1998 and it having been nominated as the European City of Culture in 2013 which quite rightly earned it a new nickname Legend-derry! In fact, there seems to be far more going on here in terms of the arts, music and entertainment all year round, than in the whole of the rest of Ireland and nowhere does Halloween better....
There has been a huge and obivous investment in the city, which is spick and span with the gleaming new Peace Bridge as its centrepiece spanning the River Foyle. Never mind the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, this is the one you want ‘to do’. For a city that was bitterly and bloodily divided divided once upon a time, this is their shiny new symbol of peace and has definitely brought both communities together in pride at least. And it works, there are people on and about this beautiful bridge 24/7 and even if you haven’t a clue about the history of city it will give you the shivers as you resonate with the possiblity of peace either on a personal level or throughout the world with all war and strife that is going on these days, it is difficult to explain, go see for yourself....
The only way to understand this incredible city’s rebirth and to get under its skin is to take a walking tour of the city’s medieval walls which have remained intact and un-breached since the 17th century. Martin McCrossan created these tours for over 20 years and knew just how to deliver its history in a balanced way, sadly he passed away in 2015 but his family still run the business. Even for me, Irish born and bred having been fed a biased view at home, in school and in the media, it was very good to finally gain an insight and understanding into the ‘troubles’ in the North.
Which I still don’t think would have been possible without seeing the actual places and their locations. Whether it is the bonfires being prepared for the 12th July or the dramatic murals on the sides of the houses in the Bogside or the actual Ferry Quay gate where the 13 original Apprentice Boys uttered those infamous words “No surrender” when the city was besieged in 1688....Other famous landmarks pointed out on the tour (for revisiting later on) are St Columb's Cathedral and St Augustine's church, The Apprentice Boys Hall, the Guildhall and Tower Museum.
1 Walk across the river Foyle via the new Peace Bridge.
2 Visit the magnificent Guild Hall which has recently been re-opened and admire the wonderful stained glass windows, admission is free.
3 Check out the Tower Museum to find out more about the city's history and see the canons salvaged from the Spanish shipwreck, La Trinidad Valancera which sank off Inishowen in 1588.
4 Go shopping in world's oldest department store Austin's, a most impressive and extravagant building (for its time) on the corner of Diamond Square.
5 Take a guided walking tour of the city walls with the McCrossan family who run Derry City Tours it's the best £4 you will spend while you are Northern Ireland.
6 Go on a pub crawl, taking in Badger's (good Guinness stew), Peadair O'Donnell's (traditional music everynight) or Gweedore (next door) or check out Sandino's, named after a Nicaraguan revolutionary, don't ask?
7 Take a helicopter flight over the city with Cutting Edge Helicopters, the only charter helicopter operators in the North of Ireland, they also do scenic flights over Inishowen and the Giants Causeway. They will even drop you off at Bushmills Inn for lunch and pick you up later on their fly and dine package.
8 Visit the Faughan Valley, a quiet natural oasis just 5 miles outside of the city at Ness Woods, with miles of new riverside and forest walkways, it is a real Hidden Gem.
9 Follow Michael Palin's advice and take one of the most scenic train rides in the world which follows the coastline along Lough Swilly and out and around Binevenagh Head via Benone strand and on into Coleraine.
10 Explore the Inishowen Peninsula either by ferry from Magilligan's Point or via the Foyle Bridge and on out to Bridge End (Lough Swilly) or Muff (Lough Foyle)